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Hunt: ‘We will never cover up’

Published on 02/10/13 at 07:24am
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In a speech which mixed the personal and the political at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester yesterday, health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged that the Tories were the ‘party of the NHS’. 

Enshrining in law the independence from political interference of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), trialling longer opening hours for GPs and a declaration that there would be no more ‘cover ups’ were among the key parts of Hunt’s address, which moved delegates to applause on several occasions.

In a move which he likened to the Bank of England’s independence on interest rate decisions, Hunt said the CQC, which has had its own governance problems this year and has been heavily criticised by MPs, will be free in future from political interference.

“We will legislate in the Care Bill to give the CQC statutory independence,” Hunt said - adding that this meant “ministers can never again lean on it”.

He also reiterated that a named GP would be responsible for elderly patients, and mentioned plans to trial 8am-8pm opening, seven days a week, for GP surgeries. 

The latter point has raised the ire of shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who said that the Tories were “seeking praise today for piloting in nine areas a Labour idea that was working in 75% of GP practices”.

While admitting that some problems in the NHS could have happened under governments of any stripe, Hunt tore into Labour’s record, saying that the Department of Health was a ‘denial machine’ under its administration.

He also criticised Burnham’s failure to mention the Mid Staffs scandal in his own speech at Labour’s conference last week. 

“Labour betrayed the very people they claimed to stand up for,” Hunt said. “Under Labour, the system did everything it could to cover up those mistakes. We will never cover it up.” 

He also defended greater involvement of the private sector in health provision, saying it was something New Labour, under Tony Blair, had been keen to pursue.

“For patients it’s not public versus private, it’s good care versus bad care,” Hunt said. Prime minister David Cameron’s commitment to the NHS ‘has shone like a beacon’, he added.

In one of the more eye-opening parts of Hunt’s address, the health secretary talked about how he was “out on the front line most weeks…rolling up my sleeves, putting on a uniform and mucking in”.

At various institutions he had washed down beds, done a tea round and answered phones, he said, and this had given him a real insight into the challenges faced by staff.

“If you love an institution you’re even more keen to sort out its problems,” he said.

Adam Hill

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